Starting a new business on the web is exciting and filled with promise. After all, your overhead is low and you can reach any customer around the globe. However, a new online business also comes with some pitfalls and situations you must navigate carefully if you want to succeed.
While not all of them are business sites, the internet currently has 1.7 billion live websites. That’s a lot of noise you must wade through to grab the attention of consumers. Figuring out the best ways of protecting your business so you don’t lose out to competitors, get hacked or fall on your face and admit defeat isn’t easy.
Fortunately, there are many things over which you have control. Focusing on these 10 elements of running an online business sets you up for a thriving company.
1. Learn Business Sense
Many business owners jump in feet-first and don’t build the required skills to run a successful business. You may lack in areas such as accounting or management, for example. Don’t worry, though, because it’s never too late and you can still learn good business sense. There are many free and paid online courses, business conferences with workshops and even events at your local chamber of commerce.
2. Add Security
As an online business, your assets may mainly be online. Your website is the portal where customers find you. If you don’t take steps to protect your website from hackers, you risk losing valuable information and the site going down during peak shopping times. At any given time, about 18.5 million websites get hacked. Malware and other viruses grow through other hacked sites, so even if you’re doing everything right, you can fall victim to hackers.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to secure your site, such as installing a firewall, adding security keys to WordPress sites and enlisting the help of your website hosting company.
3. Upgrade to a Business Network
When you first start your business, you likely start out of your home on the network you already have. However, as your small business grows, it makes more sense to invest in a secure business network used only for running your business. If you’re experiencing any slowdowns in service or network crashes or are expecting rapid growth based on an uptick in sales, it’s probably time to upgrade your network.
4. Secure Customer Data
With the enactment of the European Union’s GDPR, businesses must only keep the personal information they truly need and secure it from hackers. The law also requires them to list their policies about how they are storing the data, what they’re using it for and what security is in place. If you get hacked, one of your first steps should be to inform your customers of the incident so they can take steps to protect themselves by changing passwords.
5. Protect Your Reputation
Your competitors or unhappy new customers may come after you by posting negative reviews. While not all negative reviews are real, they still make your business look bad and may turn away potential customers. Your best bet in those cases is to immediately address the review. If the review is anonymous, invite them to contact you so you can make things right. If the review is from an actual customer, reach out to them as well and find out how you can improve the experience. Ask them if they’d consider updating their review with a comment about how you resolved their complaint.
At the same time, reach out to those customers you know are happy and encourage them to leave reviews. Reviews from thrilled customers are much more likely to be positive. Reviews that shed a good light on your business counteract the negative ones and show you may have had some blips in the beginning, but you’re working them out.
6. Back up Everything
At some point in your online business’ lifespan, you’ll experience a crash. Your entire site will get wiped away or you’ll lose all the photos you’ve taken of products because of a database or computer crash. Invest in data storage banks, and back up your website and your data regularly. It may take some time to get everything back up and running, but it will be much easier than if you don’t have the data and must start from scratch, rewriting descriptions and retaking professional photos.
7. Secure Your Ideas
It’s discouraging to release a new product or come up with a unique concept, only to have someone copy it a few weeks later. If you notice someone has copied your content, file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice with Google. You can also try reaching out to them, but that rarely succeeds in removing the stolen content. Another thing to try for relief is emailing their hosting provider. The best defense, though, is to always stay a step ahead and come up with fresh ideas consistently.
8. Monitor Employee Productivity
As a new business, you’ll hire employees at some point. Those employees may work remotely as live chat agents or as web designers and content creators. Avoid getting overcharged by asking them to track time in tools such as Toggl or Hubstaff. These apps not only show you what they’re working on, but also track how much time they spent working versus breaks and other distractions. Some tools even measure productivity.
9. Stay Ahead of Competitors
No matter what type of online business you start, you’ll have competitors at some point. Spend time studying those competitors if you want to protect your business’ edge in the market. See what new ideas they’re coming out with — of course, not to copy, but to figure out things you can offer that are even more appealing. What can you improve on and make better? Get to know their weaknesses as well as their strengths.
10. Develop Good CX
Online, the customer experience (CX) is everything. Look at your website through the eyes of a potential site visitor. Is everything clearly laid out and simple to navigate? The CX is more than just the look of your site, though. It also involves what happens during the checkout process and after you have fulfilled the order. What is your follow-up like?
Avoid the Dangers
Every new business has dangers in the first few years of operation. Online businesses are no different, but you’ll add in issues such as website security and online reviews. Go in with a plan and stay on the offensive, and you’ll experience growth and an ever-widening reputation for excellent customer service.
Lexie is a UX content strategist and web designer. She enjoys copious amounts of coffee (with a dash of milk) and walking her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.